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Archive for February 20th, 2015

The_Witch_of_the_West_is_Dead_poster

Young teenage girl Mai decides to drops out of high school due to being an outcast. Her overworked parents send her down to her foreign grandmothers house in the countryside for a month so that she can reflect on her decision. Once there, the grandmother tells Mai that she’s a witch and that she can teach her the ways of being a witch. Thus begins a tale in which Mai learns about love and life…….

Contrary to the title of this movie, this story isn’t about Margaret Thatcher, the former UK Prime Minister who was called by some people The Witch Of The West! This is a lovely coming of age movie with stunning cinematography about a troubled teenager who gets an education on life from her wise old foreign grandmother. The reason behind Mai quitting school is pretty weak to be honest – she doesn’t like the clique culture at her school. Whilst it may seem to Western viewers to be a poor excuse, from what I’ve read and seen the bullying culture in Japanese schools by cliques seem to be quite intense leading to depression and in some cases suicide. I’ve gone over this in other reviews so I won’t repeat myself again. In Mai’s case she wasn’t bullied though she was an outcast because she hadn’t joined a clique. There’s a passing reference to racism in that Mai’s mother as she was a halfie had difficulties at school but this is quickly skimmed over and nothing else is mentioned of it probably because it’s a family movie. The movie’s message seems to be more about not passing judgement on people and enjoying life. Mai’s witches training isn’t what you might think it to be – no spell casting here ala Hogwarts. Her grandmother instead asks her to help around the house especially in making wild jam and tending to her herb garden. She also insists on Mai to create her own little sanctuary inside the woods – somewhere where she can relax and mull over things.

Drama and tension is kept at a minimum. Mai doesn’t get on with one of her grandmother’s neighbour – the gruff son of a jolly postman who makes catty remarks about her. This ill feeling is made worse by the fact that the grandmother’s hens are slaughtered one night in their coop and Mai discovers that the neighbour’s dogs are responsible. Mai seems to think that by telling all about this crime to her grandmother she will go round to sort them out but the grandmother doesn’t bat an eyelid and says that even if the accusation is true, storming round to point fingers at the neighbours won’t solve anything. The pair’s relationship is delightful to watch but storm clouds gather on the horizon and due to a misunderstanding they fall out and Mai is even given a slap across the face by her grandmother! The grandmother quite happily sits down in a rocking chair, puffs away on a cigar afterwards with not a care in the world about what’s happened which I found quite amusing! Even though they are still on speaking terms, the warm feeling between them is broken.

Witch of West screenshot

During this period Mai’s father comes round with news saying the family is moving away. Mai goes back with her father and says she will try and attend the new school there. There is no hug or pleasant goodbye between Mai and her grandmother. Things are left unresolved between them. 2 years pass by and Mai has settled down nicely at her new school but then comes dreadful news that her grandmother has passed away. Now Mai feels guilty at having not patched up their relationship and returns to the house to see her body. There is however, a message from beyond the grave for Mai from her grandmother. Even the gruff son of the postman who disliked Mai is nice to her by coming round and paying his respect for the gaijin woman who never said anything bad about him even though he never amounted to anything much.

Mai’s role is played by the pretty young actress Mayu Takahashi and it is Shirley Maclaine’s daughter Sachi Parker (who was raised in Japan from the age of 2 by her father) that portrays the grandmother under a lot of makeup to make her appear older than what she really is. The interaction between the pair which makes up a lot of the movie is great to watch and feels natural. Parker is probably the better out of the two. Her Japanese language skills is excellent but if you’ve grown up in Japan I wouldn’t expect her to be less than fluent.

I really liked this movie with it’s gorgeous cinematography of the woods in which Mai’s grandmother lives. It’s a shame the storyline didn’t elaborate more on the racial problems encountered by Mai’s mother when she was still at school and the underlying tension that existed between mother and daughter but otherwise this was a fine family movie with good performances from all the cast.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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